Several of the Texas Rangers organization's top pitching prospects and a power-hitting third baseman entering his first full minor-league season are among the players who will comprise the Myrtle Beach Pelicans opening-day 2011 roster.
"I think the team we're putting together to send to Myrtle Beach should be one of the better teams we have in the system on paper," said Rangers senior director of player development Scott Servais.
This is the first season the Advanced-Class A Pelicans have been affiliated with the Rangers after being in the Atlanta Braves minor league system since their inception in 1999.
Myrtle Beach boasts eight players ranked among the Rangers' top 30 prospects according to Baseball America, including five starting pitchers. The magazine ranked the Rangers' six-team farm system No. 1 in 2009 and No. 2 in 2010 among the 30 Major League teams, and it is ranked 15th this year.
"Most of the talent in the Rangers system is in the lower levels," said Baseball America Editor in Chief John Manuel, "so the Pelicans should be talented and there should be future Major League players coming through Myrtle Beach in the next two years."
Pelicans left-handed starter Robbie Erlin of California is the No. 4 prospect in the Texas system. He is about 6-feet and 175 pounds, and was dominant at low-A Hickory last year, going 6-3 and leading the South Atlantic League with a 2.12 earned-run average and 7.4 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He allowed just 89 hits in 114.2 innings and struck out 125 while walking just 17. Manuel said he has a fastball around 88-91 mph, and his curveball and changeup are above average.
Lefty Robbie Ross of Kentucky was a second-round pick of the Rangers in the 2008 draft. Manuel said he has a live fastball that reaches 93 mph, and though he struggled early last season with a 5.37 ERA in the Advanced-Class A California League, he displayed his talent later in the year at Hickory, going 8-7 with a 2.59 ERA.
The other starters are lefty Kasey Kiker and right-handers Joe Weiland, Barret Loux and Neil Ramirez, who saw action Tuesday night at BB&T Coastal Field in the Rangers' exhibition game with Coastal Carolina.
Third baseman Mike Olt was taken with the Rangers' 49th overall pick in last year's draft after his junior season at the University of Connecticut, and fits the desirable third-base profile with defensive skills and power.
Baseball America ranked Olt the third best college defensive player at any position available in the draft, and he's the top-ranked third baseman in the Rangers system at No. 7.
Olt set UConn career records with 44 home runs and 177 runs batted in, and in 69 games with the Short-Season A Spokane Indians, the 6-2, 215 pounder batted .293 with nine home runs and 43 runs driven in. Manuel said he has a propensity to strike out, but he had vision issues last year that may be cleared up.
First baseman Chris McGuiness also has power and is the top-rated first baseman in the Rangers system, and shortstop Leury Garcia is the Rangers 15th-ranked prospect.
Talented teenage shortstops Luis Sardinas and Jurickson Profar, the Rangers No. 2 prospect and the No. 74 overall prospect in pro baseball, are awaiting their possible promotions to Myrtle Beach sometime this season, as well.
Center fielder Jared Hoying earned Northwest League MVP honors last year after batting .325 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs in 62 games with Spokane (Wash.).
The Pelicans will be managed by Jason Wood, in his third season of coaching following an 18-year professional playing career.
Rangers executives say they are happy to have a team in the Carolina League, having long regarded it as one of the better leagues for developing players, particularly pitchers. "For development purposes we're excited to be in this league," Rangers general Manager Jon Daniels said Tuesday. "We've been in the Cal league the last handful of years. It's a hitter's league. It's not easy on pitching. ... But this league is more neutral, almost leaning toward helping pitchers, and from our standpoint we want to do everything we can to give our pitchers every opportunity to develop."
Don't expect this group of Pelicans to be bolstered at any point in the season with major league talent. While Myrtle Beach just about annually hosted Braves major leaguers rehabilitating from injuries, including Tom Glavine and Brian McCann in recent years, it's not likely to be a rehab destination for Rangers players.
Daniels said the Rangers typically send players to Double-A Frisco for rehab assignments, which is only about a 40-minute ride from the team's Arlington home. The end of a rehab assignment coinciding with the Rangers playing a road series on the East Coast is one scenario that could land a Ranger in Myrtle Beach, however.
"In specific circumstances, it might make sense for a guy to pop in here for a couple games and meet us, but the schedule would probably have to line up for that to really work out," Daniels said.